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Energy Innovation Center Design Challenges

How can learners become creative citizens solving real world problems working with corporate and academic experts?

Through Design Challenges, students from different schools partner with local non-profits, businesses, and universities to respond to real-world problems. With advice and guidance from local experts, student consultants create prototypes for the implementation of solutions that make their learning visible and relevant.


Information on this page is provided by the innovator and has not been evaluated by HundrED.

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January 2019
It is our intention to involve students in the challenge of as many components of the EIC facility improvements and programming developments as we can. By doing so, the EIC gains the fresh perspectives and insights of a multi-talented student group. When young minds are focused on the assignments, their inputs as members of the student team and development team have, to date, been creative and influence our professional EIC team members.

About the innovation

When you give students a real-world challenge, they rise to meet the opportunity

Design Challenges are opportunities for students to solve real world problems working in teams as consultants. Students need to learn how to think about the needs of a client (empathize) through a real-world business document, a Request for Proposal (RfP), pose questions to understand the problem (define), develop possible strategies (ideate), create physical models and verbal hypotheses to solve the problem (prototype), and then present their proposed solutions to a real world audience (test). This process that taps into the Design Thinking process comes together through a series of unique problems identified by the Energy Innovation Center (EIC) of Pittsburgh. Each Design Challenge while unique follows a similar pattern that enlists experts, a client team, and student consulting teams from multiple schools. Key to all of the Design Challenges is the opportunity for students from different schools to work collaboratively as consultants to solve a real world problem at the Energy Innovation Center of Pittsburgh or the Parkway West Career and Technology Center. 

The client identifies the problem for the RFP. The client shares the problem with the consulting teams as part of an introductory meeting or entry event. The client addresses questions and issues raised by the consulting teams (who share their issues/questions with the Design Challenge Coordinator). The client responds to the final proposal based on the considerations identified in the RFP.

The teacher should really be a facilitator who lets the student consultants grapple with the Design Challenge. The challenge has ambiguities, but there are key issues outlined in the RFP. The teacher should make sure that the student consultants address the key issues. The teacher should also work with the group on presentation skills. The teacher can arrange for outside resources to help with the challenge, e.g. an architect. The teacher is the point of contact for all questions and issues with the Design Challenge Coordinator.

The experts are professionals who address questions from the consulting teams and then provide the evaluative feedback to the student consulting teams at the Public Exhibition - the presentation by the student consulting team. The experts work with the student consultants at the kickoff, a  midpoint session, and the final public presentation. The experts ask key questions to guide the student consultants to successfully address the RFP for the Design Challenge. The experts provide feedback at each stage helping to shape the Design Challenge. 

The Design Challenges have ranged from developing the parameters for the construction of a wind turbine at the EIC to creating food menu items for a proposed cafe at the EIC. The wind turbine project brought together an expert team from Windstax, a manufacturer of windmills, Epiphany Industry, a company that provides funding for sustainable energy projects, and the client team from the EIC. The student teams worked collaboratively to develop a working prototype of the wind turbine, design a off-the-grid power solution to store the energy generated by the wind turbine, and develop an educational plan to explain the process to visitors at the EIC. The project came to fruition with a ribbon-cutting ceremony that included public officials from city and county governments with the actual construction of a 40 foot Windstax turbine based on the student prototype and recommendations. 

The food menu item represents a very different challenge, but with a similar pattern. In this Design Challenge all students generated their ideas for nutritious appetizers, drinks, entrees, and desserts for a proposed cafe at the EIC. Experts from Penn State University, the Community Kitchen, and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center provide feedback to the student consultants. As part of their investigation the students pitch their ideas at a midpoint event. The experts and clients rate the best items using a visualize the vote process and then the best ideas take shape in the culinary kitchen at the Parkway West Career and Technology Center. The other student consultants work with the culinary team to identify the nutritional value of each food item and to develop a marketing plan for the use of the foods at the EIC Cafe. At the final presentation all the experts, client team, and the student consultants sample the food items  and review the marketing plan for the project. All three student consulting teams and guests celebrate over a luncheon prepared by the culinary students at Parkway West. 

Design Challenge topics beginning in 2016  include:

  1. Renovation of Energy Innovation Center Facade
  2. Design of Stormwater Management System for Letsche Middle School facility, (part of the EIC campus)
  3. Energy Innovation Center Theater Renovation 
  4. Energy Innovation Center Café Design, Including Food and Drink Offerings and Collaborations
  5. Sustainable and Edible Gardens Design for Schools Collaborating with Parkway West CTC and Energy Innovation Center Cafés
  6. “Green Acres” Master Plan Design of Parkway West CTC Rural Green Space to Create a “Sustainable Community” to Collaborate with Energy Innovation Center Urban Campus
  7. Windmill & Sustainable Energy Design Challenge for the EIC
  8. Innovative Food Product Design Challenge for the EIC
  9. Ideas for Tomorrow Displayed Today (Related to LEED Certification Status) 
  10. Rebranding Career Opportunities
  11. Bedford Avenue Façade Lighting Plan for the EIC
  12. Rebranding Careers Redux  
  13. Creating a Healthy and Nourishing Food Kit  for the EIC
  14. Preparing for the Unknown - Developing a Safety Plan for the EIC

The Energy Innovation Center (EIC) is a Pittsburgh based, not-for-profit organization with a mission focused on sustainability and workforce development. The physical building has been renovated meeting LEED standards. The building now houses major university research and training facilities, startup businesses, non-profit groups, and classrooms for workforce training by the major trade industries in the Pittsburgh region. 

The Parkwest Consortium of Schools includes twelve school districts from the western suburbs of the city of Pittsburgh. Most of the Design Challenges include two of the member schools and a third team from the Parkway West Career and Technology Center, a workforce development center offering a wide-variety of technical classes for the twelve member school districts. The schools have diverse populations. The participating schools select students to join the Design Challenges based on each school's needs. Some schools focus on a particular class, an environmental science course, for example, while others have created project-based learning classes where students work on a variety of activities like Design Challenges. 

The Design Challenges include a wide variety of experts who have come from corporate, civic, and university partners: the city of Pittsburgh Mayor's office, Penn State University, Chatham University, Community College of Allegheny County, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, Duquesne Light, Windstax, Redfish Group, Epiphany Solar, WQED-TV, Food Rescue 412, SimTable, Pittsburgh Technology Council, and the Community Kitchen.  The experts meet with the student consultants beginning with the Kickoff at the EIC. At a midpoint session the experts interact with the student consultants to help shape the initial set of ideas or strategies to address the real world problem identified in a Request for Proposal (RFP). The experts then reconvene for a public presentation by the student consultants where the client team joins the experts to listen and evaluate the final recommendations by the student consulting teams.

There are some key underlying processes and elements:

  • Students and teachers should have choices on how they’ll respond to the Challenge. 
  • Experts should be available to help introduce the challenge, frame the challenge, and evaluate the student response to the challenge.
  • Students need to learn how to work in collaborative teams and use creative strategies to solve problems. 
  • Students need to communicate their findings to a client by making creative products that address the costs for the implementation of the solution. 
  • Every student needs to play an active role at each key stage - kick-off, midpoint, and final presentation. 
  • Each challenge should be a real problem that students have some interest in solving. 
  • It’s critical to document the process and have data to evaluate the success of the challenge.

The Design Challenges follow a similar pattern that includes:

  • Week 1: Frame the Problem 
  • Week 2: Kick-off - Understand the Problem through a Request for Proposal (RFP) 
  • Weeks 3-5: Conduct research and interviews with key experts / Work on the problem at individual sites
  • Week 5-6: Midpoint - Develop a collaborative solution 
  • Weeks 7-9 Refine the proposed solution at individual sites
  • Week 10: Final Presentation - Rehearse the presentation/ Present proposal to address RFP

All of the Design Challenges are evaluated based on interviews with experts and the client team as well as surveys submitted by the student consultants, facilitators, and experts. The results of the Design Challenges have met the anticipated outcomes. For 2017-2018 for example: 

  • 93% Relevant and Useful
  • 93% Good to work in teams 
  • 89% Use strategies in everyday life
  • 86% Time to complete 
  • 86% Excellent quality
  • 86% Recommend to others
  • 86% Help with future job opportunities


Pittsburgh’s Energy Innovation Center Embracing the Future While Respecting the Past - Pittsburgh Gateways Corporation
https://www.pghgateways.org/pittsburghs-energy-innovation-center-embracing-the-future-while-respecting-the-past/In the 20th century, Pittsburgh was at the heart of American manufacturing, providing the steel that helped build iconic structures like the Brooklyn Bridge and the Empire State Building. But when steel production almost disappeared, this city, rich with history, had to make a decision to change. Pittsburgh has since reinvented itself as a hub for energy, sustainability, and cutting-edge technology.Pittsburgh’s Energy Innovation Center (EIC) is emblematic of this reinvention. Through its dedication to energy efficiency initiatives and workforce development, the EIC and its affiliate non-profit, the Energy Innovation Center Institute (EICI), are reshaping Pittsburgh’s local economy.HISTORIC AND EFFICIENTThe EIC may be focused on the future, but it also embraces the city’s past. The center is housed at the former location of the Connelley Trade School, a 1930s-era structure that was used to teach vocational training, such as bricklaying, auto mechanics, and carpentry before it was shut down in 2004.(The Connelley Trade School, in its original form circa 1930)“Turning a historic building into a center for energy innovation comes with challenges,” said Bill Miller, vice president and COO of Pittsburgh Gateways Corporation (PGC), the strategic planning nonprofit that owns the EIC. The “adaptive-reuse” of older buildings faces a wide range of issues, including outdated infrastructure, adherence to code regulations, and, in the case of the EIC, thick walls and rampant asbestos. In addition, planners also had to adhere to historical preservation guidelines, which further complicated the design and construction process.Despite those challenges, the EIC’s planners transformed the 80+ year-old Connelley Trade School into a “smart” LEED platinum-certified building. They leaned on external organizations, such as Siemens, to bring in the right expertise in everything from automation to HVAC efficiency.Today, the structure produces about 60% of its electricity in-house through systems such as microturbines. The building includes three different types of chillers, as well as multiple heat sources, wind turbines, and even an ice storage farm to supplement cooling capacity. This effort has resulted in better energy efficiency and a 65% reduction in energy consumption in the building.Jeff Zacherl from ‎Siemens said that the EIC represents a unique model for civic-corporate partnerships. “This is a really great example and platform for the private sector’s engagement. Participating in the creation of this integrated and uniquely sustainable learning environment within a historic facility is rewarding,” he said. MODERNIZING A WORKFORCE WITH HANDS-ON TRAININGin the EICThe EIC was built around the realization that in order to modernize Pittsburgh, the skills and expertise of the city’s workforce needed to evolve as well. The center, which focuses on programs to reskill workers, was designed to be a “living laboratory.” Students and workers learn about green energy technologies by interacting with the building itself. For example, the EIC was constructed with exposed mechanical equipment, which is color-coded for training purposes so that “anyone from the operators who manage the building operations, through PhD-level engineers, can understand how optimized systems work efficiently,” Miller said.“The connotation of someone in a blue, dirty jumpsuit with tools hanging out of their back pocket is going by the wayside,” added Miller. “These are now technicians who are equipped with smart tablets, connecting to systems electronically, and understanding and diagnosing integrated systems.”The primary mission of the EIC is not just to prepare the workforce for changing job descriptions, but to actively boost the local—and eventually national—economy as it shifts towards green energy and sustainable building. “Our effort isn’t just to put people in seats to receive per capita revenue,” said Miller. “When we hand out graduation certifications, it’s a good day—but it’s not a great day until graduates actually get employed and we are achieving that goal with an 85% employment rate.”WHAT’S NEXT FOR THE EIC?Moving forward, Miller said that the EIC will be central to the advancement of the energy industry. The organization plans to expand its research beyond the EIC’s walls with another 60,000 square-foot building on campus. Its curriculum will grow as well. Future programming will train Pittsburgh locals in areas such as technical assembly, robotics, healthcare services, and building systems operations.This continued dedication to its surrounding community is just another reason why the EIC is a great example for other cities. “With this project, PGC wasn’t just looking to revitalize a building,” said Miller. “They wanted to create a living, breathing working environment that would help transform the city of Pittsburgh itself.”DATA SOURCES:2/20/2018 interview with Cathe Reams (Siemens) and Diane Odom (Siemens)5/16/2018 interview with Bill Miller (PGC) and Jeff Zacherl (Siemens)Pittsburgh Gateways Corporation websiteEIC Pittsburgh websiteArticle Source: bofaml.com
Integrated Learning Pres 11/18
High School Students Flex Their STEM Muscles To Help Install Wind Turbine In Lower Hill
https://www.wesa.fm/post/high-school-students-flex-their-stem-muscles-help-install-wind-turbine-lower-hillWESA-FM By KATHLEEN J. DAVIS • DEC 20, 2017A 40-foot tall wind turbine has been unveiled in the Lower Hill District to help power the former Connelley Trade School. The building now houses a collection of sustainability-focused organizations, including the Energy Innovation Center and the Pittsburgh Gateways Corporation.The turbine was designed with the help of 30 high school students as part of an Energy Innovation Center "Design Challenge." The program connects kids interested in STEM careers to real-life projects they can contribute to in meaningful ways, according to Center Vice President Jessica Lee."They were really involved in the more artistic design aspects. They were also involved with the more technical aspects of wind storage and things like that," Lee said. "There was also the education aspect and communication to the community."The students involved in the Design Challenge came from Parkway West Career & Technology Center, Carlynton High School and West Allegheny High School.The wind turbine was manufactured by WindStax, a Pittsburgh-based start-up that has installed nearly 40 turbines in the Pittsburgh area, including 16 small ones on the Rachel Carson bridge.Founder and CEO of WindStax Ron Gdovic said the lower Hill turbine will provide about 2 to 3 percent of the building's overall energy consumption. "It was really designed as not only a symbol of the Energy Innovation Center's commitment to new energy, but also as an educational opportunity," Gdovic said. Gdovic said the turbine's location and height make it a focal point in the Hill District, and will be a testament to Pittsburgh's clean energy commitment.
WQED Remake Learning: EIC Design Challenge
Learning Deeper through Energy Innovation Center's Design Challenge
March 29, Kidsburgh (https://www.kidsburgh.org/wqedremakelearning/)The students walk around a parking lot at the Energy Innovation Center, taking measurements. They look down at their notebooks, which contain “specs” about the space, and then their instructors, two young, hip-looking guys, begin to talk about the need for “design to be human centered. And you need to understand not just what you’re going to be creating but the story of where you’re going to be putting it.”Though it feels like we’re crashing a university architecture course, what we’ve actually walked in on is the Energy Innovation Center’s Design Challenge, and the students are high schoolers from four local schools – Moon Area, Montour, Chartiers Valley and West Allegheny. Their instructors are actually associated with the Penn State Center Pittsburgh, and the design challenge is very, very real.It’s a unique program created by Norton Gusky, a local educational technology broker. Norton contacted folks at the EIC – housed in the old Connelley Trade School in the Lower Hill District, because he knew that the EIC is a building still changing and evolving. The EIC has been totally renovated to be a clean, efficient, green and sustainable building, and since it’s still undergoing changes it’s a perfect laboratory for students of architecture, engineering, mathematics, design, landscaping – you name it!“This is a challenge with the EIC and the Parkway West Career and Technology Center,” Norton says, explaining that there are really many local high schools involved, and that there are “two” design challenges. One group of high school students from Carlynton, Keystone Oaks, Quaker Valley and South Fayette were tasked with redesigning the courtyard entrance of the EIC facing Bedford Avenue.“They had to look at landscaping, art and technology issues,” Norton explains. The students visited the EIC, took pictures, notes and measurements, and went back to their respective schools to create solutions. They then meet as a group, share their ideas and develop a consolidated proposal that pitched to the EIC and a team of judges from Penn State University later in the month.The group visiting the EIC today are being tasked to create a solution to the water run-off problem at the EIC. Penn State Center Pittsburgh is the client, provides key support to the students through their instructors, and has developed a series of solutions for similar problems around the region, so they are a perfect partner.Lisa Kunst Vavro, sustainable environments manager and engaged scholarship manager for Penn State Center Pittsburgh explains a little more about the challenge:“Several schools have decided to have a design competition within the realm of sustainability. This group is talking about green infrastructure and how to mitigate storm water at an old site that’s almost 100 years old, the Letsche School,” which is owned by the EIC.Vavro believes the high schoolers are up to the challenge, and, in fact, “it would be even better if they were junior high school students because then we could really plant the seed for what they could do in their professional life. But now is fine. Penn State is a land grant institution for Pennsylvania, so we try to take our research-oriented information out to different constituencies and that includes high school students. We try to embed in them the need for being sustainable, for trying to incorporate green infrastructure maybe even in their residential landscape, and we feel if we can do that, we’re batting 1,000.”Back to the students. They pass the EIC’s parking lot, where the instructors are talking about biowells and raingardens, created to capture water runoff. “Where the cars are parked is pervious asphalt,” one young instructor says, pointing to the ground. “Water goes through it. And then we have about 18 inches of clean stone underneath to act as a reservoir.“Underneath this is also a five foot long perforated pipe, so all the water coming off the roof of this building – which is going to be roughly 2 million gallons a year, come down into this pipe and then slowly drains in” to the sewer system.The students are rapt; some ask questions, others take pictures, and one young woman is recording the entire session on her video camera. The group talks about “parcels” and “interacting with spaces” and “water treatment,” and then they tour the EIC.“We’re taking them up to see the green roof,” Norton says, “because one of the high schools, in its environmental science class, is studying green roofs. Today they have the chance to actually go and see one and see why it can be used as part of a water management project.“When we look at making learning meaningful,” he continues, “and having it so that students see that there’s a purpose, often what happens when they’re in the classroom, they never have the context. This is providing students a context.”It’s also providing the students with a project, which Norton says “allows them to apply their knowledge and it sticks. It’s learning that goes beyond the surface level and becomes what we call deeper learning. This is a really great chance to give the kids that opportunity – what the students here are doing used to be done at the college or post graduate level, and now we’re pushing it down to the high school and possibly middle school.”So, the students will come up with a proposal for a very real problem – water runoff at the EIC, and how to redesign elements of the Letsche School. And, they will present that to real “clients,” who might possibly use all their ideas, or incorporate part of it, so they can actually have their work realized. They’re taking what they’re learning in school – math, engineering, science, design, art – and applying it to a real life situation.“This is a chance for the kids to come up with their own ideas and concepts,” Norton concludes. “And we might even get a few landscape architects out of it,” Lisa laughs.This article originally appeared in the Remake Learning Series on WQED’s website. 
Photo Album: Bedford Facade 18-19 Design Challenge
Photo Album for Rebrand Careers 18-19 Design Challenge
Blog Article: Student Designers
In the last five years there's been a flood of attention around Design Thinking and Student Learning. Through my work with the Energy Innovation Center I've had a chance to work with over 200 high school students around a series of Design Challenges. Energy Innovation Center Design ChallengesDuring the spring of 2018 students from Moon, Montour, Quaker Valley, West Allegheny, and the Parkway West Career and Technology Center (PWCTC) worked on two different Design Challenges. The student consultant teams from Moon and Montour joined with a team from PWCTC to examine the needs for additional LEED projects at the EIC in Pittsburgh. The teams from West Allegheny and Quaker Valley combined with digital arts students from PWCTC to delve into "Rebranding Careers." Key to all of the activities were a series of activities that tapped into strategies that are part of the LUMA approach to Human Centered Design. For instance, students developed "concept posters" and "visualized" their evaluation of ideas. For both projects students had to develop an understanding for the needs of the client, the EIC. From the kick-off at the EIC, through a final presentation at PWCTC, students engaged in conversation with experts who provided feedback and guidance.For the LEED Design Challenge the student consulting team at Montour created a prototype at their high school to test out an idea for a Green Wall with an aquaponics component for the EIC. The Moon team through their research realized that the recycling program at the EIC had a narrow focus. The student consultants made recommendations for a series of improvements so all materials used at the EIC could be recycled. The construction students from PWCTC built a model for a reflective light solution that would use mirrors to bring more natural light into the EIC.The Rebranding Careers Design Challenge asked the student consultants to look at the language and images used to portray the opportunities in the trade and technical fields. The student consultants investigated new directions not only in the United States, but in Australia and Germany. The student consultants developed three pathways to educate their peers and their parents:An app that would provide a personalized approach to career and college directions;A BBQ career event that would use food to share the possibilities for a technical career;A commercial that would use a feminine perspective to break down some of the traditional barriers in the technical world.Many design activities are hypothetical, but each of the Design Challenges in this series were based on real world problems at the EIC. As one of the students pointed out, "I enjoyed knowing that the EIC will try to actually implement our ideas."
Student Project: Virtual Tour of EIC
Sample RFP: Windmill
1. Summary, Description and Scope of WorkThe Energy Innovation Center is working with Windstax (Note: Windstax will house its administrative offices at the Energy Innovation Center) to design and install a Windmill on site. Project Description and Scope of WorkThe Energy Innovation Center is accepting proposals to achieve all or part of the following elements of design and pre-installation process requirements:a. The windmill must be integrated into to the power supply systems of the Energy Innovation Center.b. Integration into the EIC power supply systems will most likely require the addition of a battery storage unit. Aquion is the preferred but not required vendor of battery storage systems.c. The EIC has been renovated and constructed under the US Dept of Interior requirements for designation as an Historic Preservation. This project must receive approval within those standards. Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation must give formal approval to the design. Consultants to participate in this permitting process.d. The Windmill will also serve as the primary sign of the Energy Innovation Center. We expect the following outcomes of signage design:                                                        i. Receive City approval as a sign.                                                       ii. Visible in daylight and darkness.                                                      iii. Be viewed as an expression of art                                                     iv. Serve as a model of power conservation as a sign that utilizes little or no powere. The Windmill/Sign be accompanied with dynamic written/visual graphic information that educates the public on the energy pathway from wind to power to power utilization of these Pittsburgh based Corporations with comparable benchmark information on the impact to the environment.Once installed at the Energy Innovation Center, the intention of this initiative is to quickly adapt and adopt these same design principles and installation processes to have wind power and battery storage systems installed on the campus of Parkway West Career and Technology CenterThe proposal should include:a 2D or 3D modela narrative explaining why choices were madea general budget outlining the items necessary for the solutionany other documentation to support the proposal2. Project Purpose The purpose of this project is as follows:The Energy Innovation Center (EIC) seeks a new design for a sustainable energy system that uses wind energy , stores and converts that energy generated for its facility’s consumption and subsequently shares the designs and process development information to serve as a model and educational resource for the Parkway West Career and Technology Center (PWCTC) and/or its member schools.3. Request for Proposal and Project TimelineRequest for Proposal Timeline: All proposals in response to this RFP are due no later than 5pm EST April 24.Evaluation of proposals will be conducted from 10:00: - 11:30 April 25, 2017. 4. BudgetAll proposals must include proposed costs to complete the tasks described in the project scope. Pricing should be listed for each of the following items in accordance with the format below:Cost of materialsWindmillStorage BatteryRelated materialsOtherLabor Installation costAdministrative costs (including Marketing)5. Proposal Evaluation CriteriaThe EIC and its partners will evaluate all proposals. To ensure consideration for this Request for Proposal, your proposal should be complete and include all of the following criteria:Overall proposal suitability: proposed solution(s) must meet the scope and needs included herein and be presented in a clear and organized manner;Value and cost: Bidders will be evaluated on the cost of their solution(s) based on the work to be performed in accordance with the scope of this project6. Appendix Resources and Tools to UseSustainable Schools Project site - http://sustainableschoolsproject.org/WindStax website - http://windstax.com/Aquion website - http://aquionenergy.com/
Blog Article: Real World Learning
https://nlg-consulting.net/2017/11/02/real-world-learning-design-challenges/For the past two years I've worked with the Parkway West Career and Technology Center (PWCTC) Consortium of Schools and the Energy Innovation Center (EIC) to develop a series of real world Design Challenges. There are some lessons I've learned:Identify the students teams as consultants. Make the students aware of the role of a consultant and the importance of addressing the needs of the client. Work with the teacher facilitators to frame the problem in ways that relate to the students and allow teams to work collaboratively.Bring in experts from Day 1. We have each kick-off event at the EIC. Bob Meeder, the CEO of the EIC, arranges for a team of experts, or as he calls them "bosses," to work with the student consulting teams.Frame the challenge around a Request for Proposal (RFP). In the business world RFPs are the documents that outline the expectations of the client. The consulting team has to address the project based on the client's needs.Use a human-centered design process to move the project along. I've had an opportunity to undergo training through the LUMA Institute. The LUMA framework, developed through a meta-analysis of the best strategies in design thinking, helps to shape the problem more succinctly and provides the focus on the target population.Here are some ways I've worked these principles into a series of Design Challenges with high school students this fall. To start the challenge the student consultants walk through the Energy Innovation Center and use a LUMA strategy called "Fly on the Wall." They use the camera on their phones to document everything that they see. At the kick-off they develop questions they need to address based on the RFP. Experts from the business, non-profit, or other arenas, begin to answer the student questions. At the midpoint I bring the students back together. (Between the kickoff and midpoint the student teams work with their teacher facilitators conducting research into the RFP issues. Sometimes the teams get together and other times they go their separate ways.)For this year's two Design Challenges I used a LUMA recipeat the midpoint session. For a Food Menu Item Design Challenge where the student consultants from South Fayette, Carlynton, and PWCTC had to come up with their best ideas for the forthcoming EIC Healthy Cafe, I needed a way to identify the best choices. Each student consultant created what LUMA calls a "Concept Poster" for their food item and then had to pitch the idea to their colleagues and a team of experts that included people in the food industries. Each consultant and expert then chose the three best ideas and put dots on the Concept Poster - LUMA's "Visualizing the Vote." This combination of strategies narrowed the choices, but there was an issue - could the choices work in a cafe environment in a cost-effective manner? Fortunately, I had a team of student experts who were studying Culinary Arts and their teacher, a chef from the Parkway West Career and Technology Center. The chef with the student consultants then examined the top choices that would be prototyped in the PWCTC kitchens.The second Design Challenge focused on the renovation of an existing space - Innovation Hall- at the EIC. The student consultant teams from Keystone Oaks and Chartiers Valley worked in four teams - lighting technologies, smart technologies, surface technologies, and furnishings. At the midpoint each team developed a "Concept Poster" and then each consultant and expert working on the project responded by placing a red note for a Great Idea, a green note for a promising idea that needed some further thinking, or a brown note for an idea that might not work. LUMA calls this strategy "Rose, Thorn, Bud." Once the teams received the feedback from the other teams and experts, they had to revise their plan.In both Design Challenges the LUMA strategies provided great ways to get all students involved in a collaborative manner. The consulting teams had to use communication skills that included visualizing ideas. The teams had to analyze feedback and revise (iterate) their ideas.We're not done yet. The final presentations will take place in the next month, but one of the Design Challenges from last year will soon have a ribbon-cutting ceremony. What's better than having the student consultants actually see their ideas implemented?
Energy Innovation Center Has Ribbon-Cutting For Wind Turbine
Design Challenge: Frequently Asked Questions
What is a Design Challenge?A Design Challenge is a problem-based learning experience. From 2015-2019 Norton Gusky developed fourteen design challenges for the Energy Innovation Center of Pittsburgh and the Parkway West Career and Technology Center (PWCTC) consortium of schools. All of the EIC/ PWCTC challenges are based on real-world problems that relate to the EIC and its partners or PWCTC. The EIC/PWCTC Design Challenges bring together multiple groups of students from different schools who work as consultants for a client. The consulting teams must collaborate and produce a proposal for the problem identified in a Request for Proposal (RFP). The EIC/PWCTC Design Challenges are NOT a competition; they're a collaborative problem-solving experience that addresses a real world problem with a human focus. The Design Challenges use a Project-based Learning framework and tap into strategies from Human Centered Design. The consulting teams share their proposed solution with the client(s) and experts who provide feedback and evaluate the solution for possible implementation to solve the real world problem identified in the RFP.What is the role of the client?The client identifies the problem for the RFP. The client shares the problem with the consulting teams as part of an introductory meeting or entry event. The client addresses questions and issues raised by the consulting teams (who share their issues/questions with the Design Challenge Coordinator). The client responds to the final proposal based on the considerations identified in the RFP.What should be the role of the teacher?The teacher should really be a facilitator who lets the student consultants grapple with the Design Challenge. The challenge has ambiguities, but there are key issues outlined in the RFP. The teacher should make sure that the student consultants address the key issues. The teacher should also work with the group on presentation skills. The teacher can arrange for outside resources to help with the challenge, e.g. an architect. The teacher is the point of contact for all questions and issues with the Design Challenge Coordinator.What should be the role of the student?Students in the EIC Design Challenges become consultants working with a team to address the RFP. The students work with a team to research and develop a creative solution or strategy for the Design Challenge. The students begin the process by identifying essential questions. Then the students, depending on the school, work in class, after-school, or independently.What should be the role of the experts?The experts are professionals who address questions from the consulting teams and then provide the evaluative feedback to the student consulting teams at the Public Exhibition - the presentation by the student consulting team.
Blog Article: Transformations
https://nlg-consulting.net/2018/12/28/transformations/Over the holiday season a new Transformer movie appeared. There’s something engaging about the concept of transforming from one concept or shape to another. In education transformations are also quite engaging and worth investigating. This past semester I coordinated two Design Challenges for the Energy Innovation Center in Pittsburgh with schools from the Parkway West Consortium of Schools. Each Design Challenge required the student consultants to think out of the box and come up with a transformative set of ideas.Student teams from Parkway West, Quaker Valley, and Keystone Oaks tackled the transformative challenge of “Rebranding Careers.” How do we rethink the language and images to describe technical workers? How do we change the perceptions of students and parents regarding the value of alternative choices to a college program? The student consultants developed a website with a marketing campaign, an app, and a video to address the transformative questions.It was fascinating to watch the student consulting teams go through their own transformations. The student teams had to learn to work with not only their own team members, but with fellow consultants from other schools. The design process of moving from a set of questions to a solution requires an ability to listen to a client’s needs. For most students this is a transformative challenge. Our traditional school approach is based on a teacher-focused orientation. Students respond to the need of the teacher who, in turn is trying to look at a standard or final outcome that is built into a curriculum. What happens when you transform this process? How do teachers and students handle their roles as facilitators and consultants?For the student teams and teachers it takes time to adjust to this challenge. However, the final product for the Rebranding Careers Design Challenge demonstrated the success for the process. What could have been three individual projects,  turned into one website that linked to each of the student consulting teams ideas. The client team from the Energy Innovation Center responded positively to the student products and intends to seek further funding to work on the prototypes shared by the consulting team.The Bedford Facade Design Challenge had similar positive effects based on the student consulting teams’ efforts. In this case teams from South Fayette, Chartiers Valley, and Parkway West collaborated to generate a three-tiered lighting plan for the original entrance of the Energy Innovation Center erected in 1930 as the Connelley Trade School. The Design Challenge process I use enlists the aid of a series of professional experts who work with the student consultants from the kick-off through the final presentation. For this Design Challenge the Energy Innovation Center brought to the table two experts from the Duquesne Light Company of Pittsburgh. The experts explained at the kickoff that consultants often outline different financial packages in their response to a Request for Proposal (RFP). The student consulting teams took this to heart and delivered silver, gold, and platinum options for the Design Challenge.For the student consultants the ability to think about multiple solutions was a transformative moment. In our traditional classes we tend to look for one solution that is already known, but for this Design Challenge the notion that there could be multiple approaches for a problem was quite challenging for the student teams. The client team from the Energy Innovation Center, praised this approach. It met the real needs for the project. Now the Energy Innovation Center has a much better idea on the actual costs and what would be associated with each option.I also wanted the student teams to use a model for the building as part of their presentation. The students don’t usually think about three-dimensional elements to explain an idea. The team of students from Parkway West welded a metal model that became the key for each consultant as they visually explained how each part of the solution would work. For instance, when the student consultants talked about the use of a Lumatrix lighting solution, they were able to point to the model to indicate exactly where the projection system would go.The key to the final success for the Design Challenge will be the actual transformation for the Bedford Avenue facade at the Energy Innovation Center. The student consulting teams outlined a thorough proposal that included CAD drawings, a cost analysis, and a 3-dimensional model for the site. The Energy Innovation Center will now look at opportunities to use the student ideas to transform the building to highlight the rich history of the building and its bright future as a center for sustainability.
Video: Windmill Design Challenge
Video explaining process

Implementation steps

Build ingredients for RFP

  • Identify the Design Challenge with a description and rationale. 
  • Identify possible people who can serve as "experts" for the Design Challenge. This could include people in business, higher education, civic organizations, or academic areas. 
  • Identify the deliverables - what will the student produce. This can include examples of the type of products, such as a business plan, marketing materials, video, or other elements.

Unpack Design Challenge with Facilitators

When you have multiple schools working on a Design Challenge, it's important to have one person who coordinates all of the activities. The project coordinator should do the following:

  • Set a common meeting time with the facilitators for each student consulting team to unpack the RFP. In the message sent to the facilitator, the coordinator should include a draft of the RFP and ask the facilitators to bring calendars to the planning meeting.

At the planning meeting the team of educators should develop the timetable for the Design Challenge. This would include the Kick-off, working time for the student consultants back at their home sites, a Midpoint meeting to share the initial ideas, prototypes, and questions for the experts, and then a Final Presentation. 

Host Kick-off to bring together Students and Stakeholders
The Design Challenge combines a Project-based Learning framework with Human-Centered Design Strategies. The Kick-off is critical for getting the student consultants to identify the key issues by asking questions and completing a fly-on-the-wall activity at the Energy Innovation Center. The student consultants need to begin to address the needs of the client by asking questions about the Request for Proposal. At the end of the session the student consultants should be ready to conduct the necessary research and prototype building at their home schools. 
Generating Initial Ideas

The Student Consultants need time to address the key questions and issues that came out of the Kick-off event. For the Energy Innovation Center Design Challenges this is a period of 3-4 weeks. However, the framework can be adapted for a summer camp or shorter period. What's critical at this stage is:

  • Each student consultant has a task with deadlines;
  • The facilitator has regular meetings with the student consultants to gauge their progress;
  • The student consultants share any questions with the project coordinator to clarify issues. 

Midpoint: Sharing Ideas

At approximately the midpoint for the Design Challenge the student teams share their ideas with their fellow student consultants, experts, and clients. There are a variety of ways to have all of the student consultants involved. Some possible strategies include:

  • Have each student consultant or team of consultants develop a concept poster that illustrates their ideas;
  • Have consultants create a prototype, sketch, or model for one or more of their solutions;
  • Have consultants, experts, and client team members do a visualize the vote activity. (There are various strategies, but the two I most often use are a place the dot on your top 3 choices or a Rose, Thorn, Bud activity.  Rose = positive attributes/ definitely will work ; Thorn = negative attributes/ may not work; Bud = potential but needs work. 

After the presentation and evaluation of ideas, the student consultants then reflect as part of a school or project team. The student consultants process the input they received and create a new plan for the next steps, including how they'll present their findings at the final presentation. 

Reflecting and Refining Ideas

For the Energy Innovation Center Design Challenges this activity takes 2-3 weeks back at the home school. There are times that student consultants work with other schools, but it's difficult to get the time for students to collaborate across buildings. The framework can be adjusted for a summer camp or shorter activity, but the step is critical. 

The student consultants should work on their ideas and relate them back to the RFP. Are they addressing the key issues and questions that are in the RFP? 

The facilitator should work with the students on not just the products, but the strategy for sharing of ideas. What will be the best way to "sell" their ideas? Should they create physical models? Should the student consultants develop a script or storyboard? What makes a good presentation? 

The coordinator can provide templates for the students to use. Often this could be a Google Slide deck that allows all student consultants to contribute. 

Final Presentation and Celebration

For the Energy Innovation Center Design Challenge the final activity usually takes place in a Board Room at the Parkway West Career and Technology Center. It's important that the space be large enough for parents, administrators, and invited guests to join. The student consultants need to present their ideas to a public audience. 

Since the student consulting teams come from different schools for the EIC Design Challenges, the first 60 minutes is devoted to a run-through. The project coordinator and facilitators give the students consultants feedback and look for opportunities to consolidate ideas and create more collaborative presentations. Sometimes two schools have similar ideas. The ideas are merged for the Final Presentation. 

The student consultants then pitch their ideas to the client team and experts. Depending the design challenge there can be a rating system or just comments from the experts and client team. All student consultants are expected to participate, but not necessarily speak. After the presentation the client team and experts ask questions and probe into the ideas shared by the student consulting teams. The experts and client team explain which ideas have the greatest opportunity for implementation. 

For the EIC Design Challenges we have found that the student consulting teams like to receive some physical reward. We provide certificates and started to give medals to each student consultant. Before a meal to celebrate the event, all student consultants, experts, and the client team provide online feedback about the Design Challenge. 

The teams then have a chance to celebrate over lunch. We have found that it's special to have the lunch in the student-run restaurant at Parkway West. This adds another element of student involvement. This is not necessary, but adds to the degree of student empowerment. 

Implementation of Ideas
It's not always possible to reach this final step. Additional funds might be required. However, when this happens it makes the Design Challenge more rewarding and truly real world. For the Energy Innovation Center (EIC) Design Challenges the best example of an actual implementation occurred for the Sustainable Energy Design Challenge. The EIC worked with Windstax, one of the experts, to donate a wind turbine based on the design of the student consulting team from Carlynton High School. Another company provided the funds for the installation of the wind turbine at the EIC. The EIC created a ribbon-cutting ceremony that included representatives from the mayor's office and country commissioner. Parents and family members were invited to come with the student consultants. 
Evaluation of Process

In the first year of the Energy Innovation Center Design Challenges, Penn State University provided the expertise to design, gather the data, and analyze the results from surveys from the student consultants. 

In years 2-3 the project coordinator took on this role using an online survey tool that contained the same questions. It's important to formulate the questions you want to answer from the very beginning. The questions should align with your anticipated outcomes. 

Spread of the innovation

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